Ted Quinn

Co-Founder of Activate Care

Ted Quinn is the CEO and Co-founder of Activate Care, a digital health company helping everybody engaged in the healthcare system – clinicians, patients, families, and communities – act together to make health happen, wherever they are. Ted has decades of experience leading healthcare IT and technology companies. Prior to Activate Care, Ted served as COO of Vecna Medical, driving revenue growth and new market penetration. Before Vecna, Ted served as President & General Manager of a Taylor Corporation Company, as a Business Manager and Product Manager for the FLEX platform at Teradyne Corporation, and as a management consultant at Accenture. Ted holds a BS in Economics from Brigham Young University, an MBA from the Harvard Business School, and an unflinching loyalty to the Boston Red Sox.

Where did the idea for Activate Care come from?

I co-founded Activate Care along with Ken Mandl, MD and Zak Kohane, MD, both nationally-renowned healthcare informatics experts. The company was incubated at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Innovation Lab. Back in 2012 when we first got together, we were inspired to launch this effort after observing for decades the constant dropped handoffs across all of the many providers and caregivers who care for patients during their time of need. We started the company as ACT.md, which was a play on words for the concept of ‘Accountable Care Transactions’ which is a way of thinking about those handoffs happening in a more reliable way. We also saw the relationship between healthcare organizations undertaking value-based contracts and needing to rethink how they delivered integrated care with all their health and social care partners. Integration can be built around accountable care transactions, with our platform at the center. So we created this company, now called Activate Care, as an operating system for team-based care that drives action across health and social care systems, toward improved outcomes and reduced costs.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My six children represent my most meaningful and promising portfolio of investments, so to speak. My wife and I had always wanted to raise a large family. So the day begins and ends with all the duties that go along with that. I’m also involved in my church, as a volunteer pastor serving a large congregation in the Boston area. I look at my duties of CEO, father, and pastor as being interrelated in many ways. My job is to help people find the way to achieve their goals, and ensure they can access the resources they need to do that.

How do you bring ideas to life?

A formative figure in my life and my career has been Professor Clay Christensen. Clay was the original force behind the theory of disruptive innovation. He recently passed away after a long and prosperous life. His academic and business work has inspired the work we do at Activate Care. Several years ago, we brought together 20 or so business leaders and customers from across the country to learn directly from Clay in a classroom at Harvard. He spent a day with us focusing on his concepts of disruptive innovation and the Jobs-to-be-Done approach to innovation. By focusing not only on the needs of a user, but more specifically on the job they are trying to do, we can better understand how to help them in a mutually beneficial way. When I’m working out what our next steps should be on a given challenge, the Jobs-to-be-Done framework helps me center our effort around what matters most to our customers, which is what they’re hiring us to help them get done.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Over my 20+ year career in technology product management and operations, I’ve been fortunate to learn from incredibly smart people. I am proud to have also hired some of them to work with us at Activate Care. What we’re seeing right in this very moment with the impact of COVID-19 on the American healthcare system is nothing short of astonishing. Many smart people predicted that the widespread adoption of telehealth and virtual care would take a decade or more. COVID-19 forced the system to adopt virtual operations in a matter of weeks. It is unlikely that this development will be reversed if (and when) we return to standard operating procedures. This trend really speaks to the continued need for technology that can serve as connective tissue between health and social care providers. This is the bet we placed on Activate Care over ten years ago. It’s a bet that will pay off in the long run.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I am an analyst, through and through. Some people have told me this makes me skeptical; I prefer inquisitive. But when you combine deep analysis with bold goals, you can unlock innovation. I trust my team to stick to our bold goals, and I challenge them to come to the table with deep analysis of a situation. This is how we stay productive and focused on the needs of our customers.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would remind myself that we have one life to live, and we can’t rush our way through it. We achieve our definition of success step by step. Sometimes life has a way of reminding us of that fact.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I have a quote that I often recite in the office: “Done beats perfect.” I assume some people will naturally agree with that statement. But some people need to be reminded that speed is a virtue in start-ups.
We placed a long bet on Activate Care, and we have a long time to make our offering more perfect. But at the end of the day we are here to continually ship a product that people can use right now to improve the health and well-being of their community. That goal is too important to leave to the whims of perfection. We’ll never be accused of not moving swiftly.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I challenge the people on my team who recognize a problem or area of opportunity to come to the table with their proposed solution. It’s not enough to point out when something isn’t going right; we all need to have the fortitude and foresight to stick our necks out and try to make it better.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

As a start-up in a fairly undeveloped space in healthcare, there were a lot of problems we could work to solve. We charted a path that led us to some relatively niche but incredibly complex challenges related to the social determinants of health. From that experience, we’ve been able to learn what a custom implementation is and what a standard implementation is. It’s part of our organizational DNA now to look at any technology implementation and see where we can play a meaningful role. It has also helped us look critically at what our core platform can offer right out of the box. Our slogan is, “It takes a community.” Every community has different health needs, and unique ways of meeting those needs. We will never prescribe a one-size-fits-all, centralized approach to social need screening, referral management, and care coordination at the state or federal level. This is what has led to monopolization in the electronic health record industry. We continually walk a fine line between custom and standard for all our implementations. It is now a superpower of ours and something of a prerequisite, in my view, for innovation in health IT. And we believe it when community leaders look us in the eye and say, “We can’t just do what another community is doing. We have different needs.”

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Losing a key manager due to my lack of focus and attention on their success and development. I now have a standard practice of revisiting my team relationships and asking, “how can I best support this individual” and act on those impressions.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

An automated workflow tool for buy/selling a home.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Going on a Great White Shark Tour on Cape Cod with my family

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

We have always been a digital-first company, with people spread out across the country and around the world. We have years of experience working remotely, with help from Slack and Zoom and Atlassian. Interestingly, these companies provide inspiration for us as we help healthcare become a more digital, community-oriented system.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

How Will You Measure Your Life?” by Clay Christensen. This book came about when a group of graduating students at Harvard Business School (where I earned my MBA) asked Clay how to apply his principles and thinking to their personal lives. He shared with them a set of guidelines that had helped him find meaning in his own life.

What is your favorite quote?

“No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” David O. McKay

Key Learnings:

  • Ted is a family man and a man of faith.
  • Ted is all about getting things done, moving things forward (“done beats perfect”) and coming up with solutions instead of problems.
  • Activate Care is committed to meeting the unique needs of every community they serve; no one-size-fits-all approach.